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La Boutique de Joel Robuchon August 16, 2016

Posted by hslu in Food, Taipei, Travel.
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台北復興 SOGO Level B2

This is a new concept shop, for Taipei at least, by the world renownded chef Joel Robuchon.

The trendy dessert shop, less than 200 sq feet in size, is small compared to other eateries on the same floor of the SOGO department store at the intersection of 忠孝東路 and 復興南路 in Taipei.

We noticed the new shop right away when we came back to Taipei a couple of months ago and I couldn’t resist the temptation to try the beautiful hand-crafted, bite-size desserts.

We could only manage one piece because we just had a big meal from a restaurant near by. We quickly decided on the one we both liked, the Tarta au Citron, and asked the young girl to pack it up for us.

She carefully picked one from the case, put it in a paper box completed with a small piece of dry ice and told us not to leave it out for more than 20 minutes.

We quickly went back to our hotel which was about 10 minutes away, unpacked the box and started enjoy the dessert right away over a cup of coffee.


The rich citrus-flavored glaze looked so elegant and luscious that we almost didn’t want to eat it. Well, we couldn’t just let this $5 piece of art goes to waste either. 

In the end, the dessert tasted just as wonderful as it looked. We sure will try the others, Rubis looked especially good, once we feel less guilty about eating something we shouldn’t eat for fear of 三高。

台湾游记 Dec 6 to Dec 16 2009 Day 8, 9 and 10 Taipei April 14, 2010

Posted by hslu in Chinese, Chinese Food, Economics, Food, Life, Death and Yuanfen, Restaurants, Taiwan, Travel.
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Today was Sunday and we got up just in time to have lunch at an all-you-can-eat place called 野宴 “ye3 yan4,” or banquet in the Wild, at Xiaobao’s suggestion. This restaurant used a traditional clay pot and a metal wire mesh, instead of a hot plate on natural gas, as the cooking surface. It burned carbonized wood, or 木炭 “mu4 tan4,” as fuel. Again, there was plenty of food including three kinds of meat, shrimp, squid, fish, clams, various kinds of mushroom and a Japanese style shabu shabu. We stayed for about 90 minutes and were all stuffed with too much food and sweets.

At 3 PM, Bao and I went to the older SOGO to meet a friend of us for about an hour. We spent about 15 minutes just to find a seat at three busy cafes in the huge department store. We then went back to Xiaobao’s apartment to wait for Jack to join us for dinner. He had offered a lot of help to Xiaobao and we wanted to thank him for his help before we left Taipei. Another of Xiaobao’s Langley friend couldn’t come.

Jack came from 天母 “tian1 mu3” right after sun set and we went to a Sichuan restaurant near by. On the way there, we walked pass by this small restaurant called 王氏非常麵 “wang2 shi4 fei1 chang2 mian4” on a narrow side street about a stone throw from Xiaobao’s apartment. It specialized in noodles but also operated a government sanctioned Keno game. According to Xiaobao, each ticket is 25 NTD and we could bet as often as every 10 or 20 minutes. It ran 24/7 and we could be as often as we like. With each game, we could choose as many as 10 numbers or as few as four or five numbers. Of course, the more numbers we matched, out of 20 selected by the computer, the higher the winnings were. We each had a game or two and didn’t have any winning hand at all. I guessed that, like many state governments in the United States, Taiwanese government had to rely on lottery winnings to supplement government spending too. I wasn’t sure what kind of revenue stream this endless Keno game could bring to government’s purse, but allowing public gambling in such a way could bring sorrows and heartbreak to many who were addicted to gambling.

Winning numbers

The Sichuan restaurant, Kiki Restaurant, looked classic from its 門面 “men2 mian4,” or its overall appearance, and according to its display has been in operation since 1991. I guessed that this restaurant had to be good in order to survive 20 years in such a competitive market as Taipei. We ordered six homey dishes, or so called 家常菜”jia1 chang2 cai4” but they were all just okay. There string beans were as good as our restaurant’s version. The 麻婆豆腐 “ma2 po2 dou4 fu3” was numbing and spicy from its seasoning but the other dishes weren’t very authentic to me. The 蒜苗臘肉 “suan4 miao2 la4 rou4” (Young Leeks with Chinese Bacon) was under-cooked and it needed more cooking oil and more salt. The 炸醬麵 “zha4 jiang4 mian4” was below par. After the dinner, we went to SOGO food court together and had some 芝麻湯圆 “zhi1 ma2 tang1 yuan2” again. They were so good and filled with so much creamy and yummy 芝麻 that none of the frozen 芝麻湯圆 we could buy from the freezers here in Northern Virginia came even close. As I walked around the food court admiring bountiful desserts and pastries in various stores, the kids and Bao gathered around Jack’s laptop and checked out pictures of their mutual friends from the past. Their laughter could be heard from the other side of the food court. I was glad that they had a good time there.

蒜苗臘肉

String Beans Sichuran Style

麻婆豆腐

番茄炒蛋

Monday is the day that Jingjing had to fly back to NY while Xiaobao went to his class. It was cloudy with drizzle but not too cold. We took her to the airport via 長榮巴士 “chang2 ren2 ba1 shi4”at $140 NTD each at a bus stop 5 minutes away from Xiaobao’s apartment. The bus ride was comfortable and took only 50 minutes. It was convenient and cheap compared to last time we were here.

Jingjing at Taoyuan Airport on her way back to NY

This was one of the progresses I’ve noticed this time around. In addition, there were at least two other bus companies served this route which benefited the consumers. We had used two of them and each offered comparable services and price. I guessed that a little capitalism goes a long way to introduce a little competition in the market place and I liked that a lot. Gone were the dreaded feelings of choosing between government-operated buses and private cars or taxis called 野雞車 “ye3 ji1 che1” after getting out of the airport. The buses were slow but cheaper. But the bus station was far away. There weren’t too many buses especially after 9 PM. 野雞車 was fast and convenient but we had no way of knowing whether we were had or not on the price. In addition, they flew past every car on the highway, raced between the airport and your destination and offered no service at all. They had little regard to their passengers’ safety and all they cared about was trying to get back to the airport for their next fare. The new system was operated by three companies right in the airport building. They were cheap and fast and all we had to wait was no more than 15 to 20 minutes. What a surprise! What a change! I loved it.

Now Jingjing is on her way back to NY, we had to get our stuff ready because our flight back to DC was a day away. After Xiaobao got back from his class we went to 大潤發 “da4 run4 fa1” to buy some stuff for Xiaobao’s apartment. 大潤發 was a huge supermarket stocked with light appliances, clothes, fresh produces, daily necessities, ready-to-eat food, meat, seafood and a lot of other things. Prices were great too. We ordered a dehumidifier for him because Taiwan’s humid weather made wet towel smelly like a five-day old sock after just a day or two day’s use.

大潤發

Fresh White Bitten Melon

Ready-to-Eat

大潤發

At大潤發, I saw something that I haven’t seen for 40 years: 黑人牙膏 “hei1 ren2 ya2 gao1,” (Black me toothpaste) a popular brand of toothpaste we used when I was a kid. The package and its color scheme have changed but the brand survived legal challenges over the years. I found it also interesting that白人牙膏 “bai2 ren2 ya2 gao1” (White men toothpaste) were also available to the public.

黑人牙膏 and 白人牙膏

I also took Bao to SOGO to buy some eye lashes. The sales lady was so persuasive that Bao bought a couple of them at what she thought was a good bargain. Unfortunately, I found out later that I could get similar stuff on Amazon at about ¼ of what she had paid. Well, I knew SOGO was not cheap but I didn’t realize that it was that expensive.

Our lunch was very simple: 擔擔麵 “dan4 dan4 mian4” and 甜不辣 “tian2 bu1 la4,” two very simple dishes for everyday common people at SOGO food court. 甜不辣 can be literally translated into “sweet but not spicy”  which is deep-fried fish cake and radish stew popular in Taiwanese and Japanese cuisine. I do not know how this dish came about but I have had this from street vendors since my college days in Tainan. Both dishes provided a comfort feeling as you eat it in Taiwan’s winter days which could be very damp, windy and extremely cold. Back then, very few houses in Taiwan had heater or air condition in the house. Even if it was available, many homes left them unused except when guests came by. As such, the inside temperature of a house could drop to 40 to 45 oF in the winter. A dish liked 甜不辣 or 擔擔麵 and their warm and savory broth made the cold winter that much more bearable.

擔擔麵

擔擔麵

甜不辣

Dinner was at 糖朝 “tang2 chai2” at 微風廣場 “wei1 feng1 guang3 chan3.” Since we both like糖朝 a lot when we visited Hong Kong earlier, we decided to try its chain store in Taipei. I wasn’t sure whether it was because we were about to leave Taipei and Xiaobao or was it something else, I didn’t like any of their dishes at all. It was as if it was operated by a different company. Even its sweets were all flops. They didn’t even look good to me. So disappointing!

Taipei 微風廣場 糖朝

Picture taken at Taipei 糖朝

On the way back to Xiaobao’s apartment, I saw a Chinese calligraphy scroll hanging in a store.

人要 知福 惜福 再造福

It says:

人要  知福  惜福  再造福

“ren2 yao4 zhi1 fu2 xi1 fu2 zhai4 zhao4 fu2”

It reminded me that life is short and it was up to me to realize and cherish the blessings I have in my life: my wife, my children, my parents, my career at Mobil, the restaurant and many things surrounding me. I wasn’t sure how much blessings I was able to create for the others, but I’d think about it and be content with what I have.

Taiwan has changed a lot and, in many aspects, has been positive. People were more civil to each other. Streets were cleaner than before. There were only a few bicycles because many of them have been replaced with motorcycles and cars. Motorists more or less followed street signs compared to what it was before. Even pedestrians at Taipei’s 復興忠孝 intersection followed traffic signs with very few people jaywalking. 捷運 was wonderful, on time and clean. Food was cheap at neighborhood restaurants. All-you-can-eat places were common near where Xiaobao lived.

However, air quality was poor and the exteriors of many houses and buildings were dirty and in need of a good cleaning. Business signs of different shapes, design and color were everywhere just like I remembered. People in the Southern section of Taiwan were more concerned about Taiwan’s sagging economy and they were worried about where Taiwan will be a decade or two from now in light of the dominant presence of China. Most of my classmates didn’t like what they saw in the current president but were afraid of the alternative. My professor friend was particularly concerned about the quality of Taiwan’s university graduates; even the ones from top universities who came to study in his research center. His exchange students from China were eagle to learn and anxious to fulfill their dreams while Taiwanese exchange students from his department were more concerned about when their one-year terms were over.

Well, we had a nice time here and it gave us a chance to live with our kids for a week or so. Time flew by quickly especially when we had fun. Now it was time to say good bye and our trip to Taiwan was almost over.

Tomorrow was our last full day in Taipei and we’d have to say good bye to Xiaobao soon. Chinese has a saying:

兒行千里母擔憂 “er2 xin2 qian1 li3 mu3 dan1 you1”

This short phrase portrays a mother’s apprehension when her child is about to leaveher on a thousand kilometers journey.

Of course, I understood that 千里 was only used to emphasize the distance between us; I also realized that electronic advances have made the distance between us much shorter, but Bao and I couldn’t help but to know that we would be separated by a day’s travel by an airplane.

Xiaobao gave up his easy life in San Francisco and moved to a place he didn’t know a lot and a language he wasn’t very good at. He wanted to start a new life here just like us thirty some years ago when we came to the United States. I like his courage but Bao kept worrying about him. Well, with this trip to Taipei, we knew he has made a new beginning for himself and we were happy for him.

We hope we’d be back soon and will very much like to see him establishes a good start for himself.

台湾游記 Dec. 6 – Dec. 16, 2009 February 16, 2010

Posted by hslu in Chinese Food, Food, Taiwan, Travel.
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Day 1, Taipei, Sunday, December 6, 2009

Today we left Shanghai and flew to Taipei. We got up early and found out it was an excellent day: clear sky and beautiful sun rise from our vintage point from high above Puxi, Shanghai. Too bad that we had to leave!

Taxi ride to the airport was smooth and took less than an hour. The taxi driver was courteous and helped us with our four large pieces of luggage without me asking. He told us that he worked in a farm on the island at the outlet of 長江 “chang2 jiang1”  for six years during Culture revolution. He came back to Shanghai after his Mom retired from the factory. He was very talkative and complained about high costs of food, gasoline and electricity. The housing price went up at least 10 times from 10 years ago and many people couldn’t afford a house even they worked their entire lives. Capitalism was good for a selective few and people like him worked hard and 16-hours days  just to make a living. Salary could not keep up with inflation and his take home shrunk because of so many taxis in the city. Many more people were coming into Shanghai from the farms in order to find a job here. And many of them turned to taxi companies because it was a job that was easy to get it started.

I gave him some tips and thanked him for his service. Capitalism has its advantages as opposite to Communism. In the past, the taxi driver took you money, he’d pop open the trunk and you could get luggage yourself. Since he worked for the government, he had no incentives to do any more than he had too. I went though that personally in 1986 and it gave me a bad taste in the mouth. Although I hated the system back then but I had no choice but to go with the flow. I thought that this kind of system couldn’t last long because it violent the fundamental principles of human being: selfishness. Look at where China was in 2009! Who knows what the next 23 years will bring. I couldn’t wait to see it.

Our China Airline flight to 桃園國際機場 “tao2 yuan2 guo2 ji4 ji1 chang3” or Taoyuan International Airport took less than two hours thanks to the new regulation allowing people traveling directly to and from cities in both places. In the past, direct flights were not allowed and people had to fly to Hong Kong to catch a flight into any city China. This new regulation was adapted after the current administration took office a little more than a year ago. This policy along with other social exchanges between 兩岸 “liang3 an4” or two shores on each side of the Taiwan Strait began the long-awaited unification process between China and Taiwan; the Republic of China. For the past 15 or so years up until the new government took office, Taiwan has engaged in an all-out independence process under 李登輝 and 陳水扁 “li3 deng1 hui1 and chen2 shui3 bian3”in order to become an independent country. However, under a couple of treaties between China and US and recognized by most of the countries in the world, Taiwan is recognized as a renegade province of China. Under the military threat of China and without the direct backing of the United States arm forces, Taiwan will never be an independent country, no matter what. To me, unification is inevitable. It is just a matter of time because, aside from its political system, Taiwan is heavily dependent on China for its economical livelihood.

Well, the female flight attendants of China Airline looked equally beautiful as the ones I saw 36 years ago when I flew from Taipei to Los Angeles; the very first flight I ever took. This time, we also had a male flight attendant on board which was unusual back then. The food was lousy, mushy and tasteless. The service was good though. They were quick, professional and smiling too. Since xiao didn’t book the same flight, he arrived about 20 minutes later.

The bus ride to Taipei was much faster than I had remembered because the highway system has greatly improved even from 11 or 12 years ago. I also realized that Taoyuan Airport was so closed to Taipei and most of our 40 or so minute ride was spent in the city of Taipei. After dropping our stuff in Xiaobao’s small apartment, we went to the famous SOGO Department store which was only ½ a block south on the other side of the 忠孝東路 “zhong1 xiao4 dong1 lu4.” We also got to know the surroundings of where Xiaobao has been living for the past 4 months or so. In fact, had Xiaobao not come to Taipei, we’d probably not come here because Taipei was a city I never knew and our home in Tai Zhong had all but gone. The only attachment I had with Taiwan are a few of my closest college friends, my father-in-law’s grave in 臺北縣 “tai2 bei3 xiang4,” many famous dishes I knew from the days I grew up in Taiwan and memories. There were no cars, no new clothes, no PCs, no iPhones and no Wii. We walked to and from school in sandals. We played in the mud and read books in bookstores without paying for them. There were only a few department stores and we got candies and new clothes around Chinese New years. Those were the days when we were poor and under a great amount of pressure to excel in classes. We took entrance examines to get in middle school. We then took examine to get into high school. We then took examine to get into college.

Well, things have changed. Imported cars were very where, even the Smart car and a late model CRV. Taiwan has changed a lot.

SOGO was a flashy department store with name brand boutique stores and expensive items that I would not buy. The only place I like was the basement where there were many restaurants and cuisines to choose from. I ordered a bowl of  擔擔麵 “dan4 dan4 mian4,” the famous and classic Tainan local street food that I ate a lot when I was in college. The broth, the QQ noodles, the braised hard boiled egg, the tangy ground pork meaty sauce called 肉燥 “rou4 zao4,” the semi-raw bean sprouts, the Chinese chive, and a piece of fish cake were all the same as I had before. The only difference was that the fish cake had no flower design on it. I sure got nostalgic for a while but, hey, I was here to eat, wasn’t I.

Well, then I realized that there was something different: 30 some years ago in Tainan’s own 度小月擔擔麵 “du4 xiao3 yue4”, I had to sit on a knee-high small wooden bench and eat from a plain and rough bluish clay bowl inside a small place of no more than 20’ on each side. The dinning room had a few dimly lit dark-colored lanterns with white 度小月 written on it. I and my friend sat in front of the owner who was also on a bench of similar height but across from us on the other side of a 扁擔 “bian3 dan4,” a curved bamboo board about 5’ long, 4” wide and ¾” thick. The two ends of the 扁擔 was placed on two wooden cabinets about 4’ apart. On one end of the 扁擔 was a cylindrical metal container about 16” in diameter and roughly 20’ tall. The heated container had three compartments: to store some fresh water, to cook the noodles and to keep broth. The other end of the 扁擔 was a big round metal pot with meat sauce and braised hard boiled eggs. The pot was placed on top of a black clay fire pot. the cylindrical container and the hot pot were kept inside of two separate wooden cabinets for easy carrying using the 扁擔 and a couple of strings. The reason it was called 擔擔麵 was because, in the old days, the street vendor would carry the whole noodle station using the 扁擔 on his shoulders to sell 擔擔麵 to his customers on the street.

扁擔 and 火爐

Here in SOGO, there was fancy menu board with colorful pictures. A young girl took my order on a computer and yelled into the kitchen of what I wanted. I couldn’t see the kitchen but I assumed that there was no 扁擔 in there. The clay fire pot mush have been replaced with natural gas stove and 擔擔麵 was one of many dishes the restaurant offered in this busy food court. Well, at least the taste was similar.

We also ordered a 排骨飯 “pai2 gu3 fan4,” a Korean bibimbap and a bowl of 湯圓 “tang1 yuan2.” Everything was so good that I wished I had one or two more stomachs to eat more of them. 排骨 was juicy and not very salty. The xiao3 cai4 that came with the 排骨飯 were so good I wished I could make them as good as they did. 湯圓 was better than good. It was great: the sweet rice skin was thin, slightly chewy yet it won’t stick to my teeth. The 芝麻餡 “zhi1 ma2 xian4” (grounded sesame fillings) and 花生餡 (grounded peanut fillings) inside the sticky rice skin were excellent; sweet, warm and silky smooth. A great start in a place that I haven’t been back for 12 years!

After our meal, we went to 藍天廣場 a few blocks from SOGO. It was a very high class shopping center with stores such as Gucci, Coach, LV and many boutique fashion stores. We bought two pillows so that we each could have a pillow to use (xiaobao had two already) and Jingjing will join us tomorrow.

蓝天广场

LV Store was busy

This high price shoe store had more clerks than customers

大同专卖店 near Xiaobao's apartment

Motocycles were every where

We then went back to xiaobao’s place to take a nap. By the time we got up, it was very late. Xiaobao and I had 宵夜”xiao1 ye4”; some 小菜 “xiao cai” and 魯肉飯 “lu3 rou4 fan4” at a restaurant near his apartment.

Tomorrow would be our first full day in Taiwan. Jingjing, our daughter would arrive at 5:30 in the afternoon and we’d go to 師大”shi1 da4” in the morning to check out Xiaobao’s school.

It’s going to be a fun day.

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